Late in the 19th century, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway decided to take action to build a one-company line connecting Chicago to Kansas City and on to the west coast. The 351 mile section between Chicago and Kansas City was begun on January 24, 1887. Traffic began on the line in the spring of 1888.
Hiram Long helped secure land for the railroad-owned Santa Fe Town and Land Company. C.A. Sias then mapped out the town; one of many created along the line at regular intervals for the purposes of refueling, crew changes and water.
Marceline’s name is most frequently said to come from the name of the wife of a director on the railroad’s board, Marcelina. Two other similar claims have been circulated. One comes from the Santa Fe records which attribute the name to the daughter of C.A. Sias; the other comes in recent years from descendants of Marceline Sivadon, one of the first residents and property owners of the town.
Regardless of the source of the name, the City of Marceline was incorporated on March 6, 1888. Businesses began, churches were built and plans for a school were all part of that same year. A civic improvement campaign which started in 1898 with Mayor Walter Cash, included the Santa Fe donating 10 lots for a park. By 1902, Ripley Square was a part of Marceline.
Fires were a serious threat in the early years of the city. Until 1900, there was no organized fire department, no fire truck and no hoses. In March 1900, businessmen called a mass meeting to discuss fire protection and soon thereafter a bond was passed that allowed the city to buy its first fire engine and equipment.
With the beginning of the 20th century, only twelve years after its beginning, the census showed the town had grown to 2,638 residents. By 1910, the population had shot to over 3,900. This trend slowed and then reversed itself by 1920. It was during these booming years that the young Walt Disney, moved to town with his family in 1906. After only four years, with a lifetime of memories collected, Walt’s family moved to Kansas City. Later he would model Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland, after those memories.
The first Post Office, built in 1888, was located on E. California Avenue. It was moved five times until 1936, when E. Ritchie Street became the permanent location. In September 1968, Marceline was chosen to host the first issue of the Walt Disney Stamp. A parade was scheduled with Mrs. Disney and her daughters and their families and Roy Disney and his family taking part.
On May 21, 1917 the Andrew Carnegie Foundation notified the City Council that $12,500 would be allocated to the city for a public library. In February 1919, an architect was chosen and ground was broken for the structure in 1920. A book drive throughout the area was conducted and 744 books were obtained and on November 1, 1920 the library was opened to the public. Marceline is the smallest community to have a Carnegie Library.
The early 1920s saw considerable development in the city. Dr. Ola Putman announced his proposal for a new $25,000 hospital April 21, 1922; businessmen on Main Street collected donations to put street lights in the downtown district; the Masonic Temple was constructed, and in February 1924, dedicated.
Marceline pulled together during World War I and held together after the stock market crash in 1929. Walsworth Brothers, a partnership of Don, Bill and Ed Walsworth, began in 1937 and flourished during this time period. The Marceline Industrial Development Corporation was formed in 1946, bringing in additional industry. In the late 1940s the IDC enticed the Moore Company to move to Marceline. Originally a Kansas City firm, the company moved to this city in 1947, initially offering employment to 50 people. The company manufactures industrial fans and louvers. During the late 1940s and the 1950s, Marceline grew into an industrial center for north Missouri.
After World War II great strides in civic progress were made. In 1953 the first city manager was appointed, replacing the original mayor and alderman system.
The IDC also helped Hurtt Fabricating, a structural steel firm, and Cimarron Lumber Company, a screen door and window manufacturer, locate in Marceline. Later, it oversaw construction of an industrial building in southeast Marceline to be used to attract more industry.
Marceline’s relationship with Walt Disney was reopened in 1956 when the city named its new swimming pool and recreation center after him. For the first time since 1910, when they left Marceline with their family, Walt and Roy Disney returned to the city to dedicate the new recreation facilities adjacent to the Country Club lake.
In 1959, the Marceline Board of Education decided to build a new elementary school building, the construction of which in 1960 led to Disney’s next visit to Marceline. The school board named the school for Walt Disney. Disney showed his gratitude by sending an artist from his studio to decorate the building. Famous Disney cartoon characters were drawn. They are on display in the gymnasium and in the entrance hallway. Disney also donated playground equipment and a flag pole that had flown flags at Squaw Valley during the Olympic games. He also gave the school a Disneyland flag to fly. Walt Disney Elementary is the only place authorized to fly this flag outside of Disneyland. Disney returned to Marceline October 13, 1960 to dedicate the new school building.
The Santa Fe Railroad has long since stopped using Marceline as a refuelling and crew change point. However Marceline has remained vital to the area as a major employment center.
Walsworth Publishing is the largest employer with over 1300 employed. Since taking over as president and C.E.O., Don O. Walsworth and his son Ed A. Walsworth, have upgraded their pre-press and printing plants to one of the most modern facilities in the world. Because of their modernization, several smaller binderies and publishing companies have located in Marceline, either to work with them, or compete. Thus making Marceline the “Publishing Mecca of the Midwest”.
In addition The Moore Company and Hurtt Fabricating are strong and vital employers doing business on a national and international basis. At the writing of this history not a single building on Marcelines’ main street is empty.
Progress continues on the Main Street U.S.A. project; the Walt Disney Hometown Museum; the Marceline Business Complex, as well as several other venues including a home for the North Missouri Arts Council and our own Chamber of Commerce!
Marcelines’ future looks as bright as its past.